Tuesday night, Tower Theater overflowed in celebration of David Fetzer, a leading local actor/artist who was lost last year to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. It was Fetzer’s birthday and he would have been turning 31. The evening was also the formal debut of the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, which has come rapidly into existence mostly due to the efforts of Fetzer’s mother. Betsy Ross’ stoic candor, humanity and sense of humor in the face of horrible loss is as inspiring as her late son’s excellent work as an actor, director, musician and arts administrator. Also in attendance were Jerry Rapier from Plan-B Theater, as well as Cynthia Fleming and Keven Myhre from SLAC. All three praised Fetzer’s dedication to theatre and to fellow human beings of every ilk. Along with hosts Kenny Riches and Cara Despain, the above mentioned explained the grants that the Davey Foundation will award every year from now on. The awards are unique in Salt Lake City in that they exclusively fund professional theatre and film artists under 35.
During screentime that will in future years be occupied by the work of recent grantees, the new foundation presented two films written by Fetzer and produced posthumously. Kenny Riches directed a farce about “Isip the Warrior,” a good-hearted fool on a Christian mission sponsored by a local shoe store. It’s lightheartedness complemented “How to Speak Clearly,” which was written later and displayed a greater maturity. The latter film’s cliff-hanger ending, in which a young man soon to be wed faces an important crossroads, reminded me of the work of John Sayles, whose “Limbo” left me gasping for air.
Both films made clever use of cameo use of “Jitterbug,” a short by Dustin Guy Defa from 2008 co-starring Fetzer and friends Shantel Bennett and John Kuenhe. Riches noted that this was some of the older work that Fetzer left behind. Perhaps we will see more scripts emerge in the years to come. Last to play was a short short called “So This is Hell” directed by Patrick Waldrop. It was pure, radiant slapstick––a young David Fetzer trying and failing to gain the attention of Hannah Harris as she sat on a planter in front of the Tower Theatre. After a few more words about why we were here from Betsy Ross, we were ushered back into the night.
Later on that evening, fans gathered for a special screening of “Point B,” a sci-fi thriller starring Fetzer that was finished shortly after his death by local director Conor Long. In attendance were many of David Fetzer’s friends, including my old pal John Kuenhe, whose hilarious performance as the ferryman to the underworld in “Go To Hell” I will never forget. I first met David Fetzer myself when he was working on producing that show, under the moniker of New Works Theatre Machine. I’ve still never met anyone quite like him––so passionate about the project of theatre in Utah, so articulate about why experimental, challenging work was necessary and why Salt Lake was ripe for it. David Fetzer was an infectious, magnanimous talent whose hard work made his peers and collaborators shine. In that sense, through a constellation of friends, as well as through this new foundation, his important work as an artist continues.